Home prices may be astronomical in certain parts of the country, but historically low mortgage rates are allowing borrowers to pay off their mortgages faster than ever.
At today’s average rates, 61% of a new homebuyer’s very first mortgage payment is going towards principal repayment, according to data from Edge Realty Analytics.
In the early 2000s, that percentage was 26.5%. The change is even more drastic when looking back at the 1990s, where just 11.9% of a homebuyer’s first payment went towards paying down the principal, or the 1980s, when that percentage was a minuscule 4.6%.
The result is a much faster build-up of equity over a short period of time, so long as interest rates remain low.
After the first five years of mortgage payments, today’s homebuyers borrowing at today’s prevailing rates will have paid back more than a fifth of their mortgage (16.5%).
“Homeownership represents a very aggressive forced saving program,” Mortgage Professionals Canada noted in its annual consumer report.
“As a result (and even before we consider the impact of price growth) housing equity is built very rapidly,” the report noted. “This excellent ‘net affordability’ goes a long way to explaining why homebuying activity has remained strong in Canada and why a large majority of Canadians see homeownership as financially better than renting, despite the rapid run–up in house prices and the higher burden of mortgage (principal plus interest) payments.”
Not only have low interest rates allowed borrowers to repay their mortgages more quickly, but it’s also kept housing moderately “affordable” despite the 38.4% run-up in average home price in the past 12 months.
“If it were not for the extremely low interest rate, most cities in Canada, especially Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and Montreal, would be in overvalued territory,” Alberta Central chief economist Charles St-Arnaud wrote in a recent analysis. “It means that the main driver for affordability is the record low level of interest rates.”
Rates won’t remain low forever
All good things must come to an end, and that goes for ultra-low mortgage rates.
The Bank of Canada has made it abundantly clear that it expects to start raising interest rates by late next year.
How much rates will increase in the Bank’s next rate-hike cycle is anyone’s guess. But for what it’s worth, markets are pricing in at least eight 25-bps hikes over the next five years, which would bring Canada’s overnight rate to 2.25%, up two percentage points from its current record-low of 0.25%.
But even a more modest rise in rates of as little as 100-150 basis points could “push the valuation metrics into overvalued territory,” St-Arnaud noted, making today’s still somewhat “affordable” housing market patently unaffordable for most.
“Simulations show that many cities in Canada will struggle with housing affordability as interest rates increase,” he added. “A 150-bps increase in mortgage rates could be enough to generate significant headwinds on some housing markets and house prices.”
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